On this Fourth of July morning, I woke up thinking about freedom. (Pastor Dustin did, too. Thanks for the great sermon!) We’ve all heard the saying “Freedom isn’t free”, and it is true of all freedom throughout history. At the very minimum, freedom represents a change from what is known and an uncertain future; accepting responsibility for yourself, possibly for the first time. In the extreme, freedom, or the fight for it, can mean death. When, after suffering through the plagues, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to leave, they headed out into the desert. There were many who cried to Moses “Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Exodus 14:12. I’m guessing it didn’t get any better when they saw the Red Sea! That was fear. When the young adult takes their first steps towards independent living, there is often anxiety over a future full of unknowns. That is also fear. We’ve all faced fears, large or small, either in the normal course of life or extenuating circumstances. How many, though, have been threatened with the loss of everything they own and the death of self and family? And how many of those walked into the storm anyway?
Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence. Of that day, Benjamin Rush wrote about the “pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress,” to sign “what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants.” Yet, they all signed. These were not men with nothing to lose. Almost half were lawyers and judges. Eleven were merchants, and nine owned large plantations. Others were writers and clergymen. They were generally well-educated. They were mostly men of means. Franklin Roosevelt said that “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear”.
What was the fate of the fifty-six? Some were captured by the British. Many lost their homes. Several died during the war. Some lost sons to battle and capture. Many lost everything and died broke. Families were scattered, never to be reunited. Some of these things occurred as a natural course of war and not because they signed the Declaration. However, THEY KNEW these things would happen. THEY KNEW the British would be brutal. THEY KNEW it was going to be bad. To those men, American independence was more important than fear. And that decision was followed by millions of courageous acts by young men at places like Cowpens, Lexington, Concord, Guilford Court House, and hundreds of other battlefields across the 13 colonies.
Now, 245 years later, I am thankful to be a beneficiary of all that courage. I’m thankful for 56 men who signed that precious document. I’m thankful for the approximately 231,000 men in the Continental Army and 145,000 militiamen who fought for it. I’m thankful for the approximately 23,800 who died of battle wounds or disease. I’m also prayerful that we don’t squander the gift.
Happy Fourth of July! I hope you have an awesome celebration full of fun with family and friends. I also hope you take a moment to be thankful for Freedom, Fear, and Courage.
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